Tampa Bay vs Toronto Blue Jays

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20) faces the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning Thursday, March 7, 2019 at Charlotte Sports Park. Photo by Tom O'Neill

Though Tampa Bay Rays starter Tyler Glasnow looked to be close to regular season form in his 2 1/3 inning start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon, the pitchers who relieved him showed they still have some rust to wear off.

Glasnow worked quickly and kept hitters off-balance with his new pause in his delivery, striking out two and allowing two baserunners — on a single and a walk — in his start.

However, Rays relievers Colin Poche and Wilmer Font combined to allow 10 runs to score over the next 1 2/3 innings. Though Tampa Bay answered with two runs in the third inning on a single by Yandy Diaz, that would be all the offense could provide in a short-lived comeback attempt, falling 11-2 to the Blue Jays at Charlotte Sports Park.

“There weren’t many highlights, but Tyler (Glasnow) was probably the highlight,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Obviously it wasn’t our best performance. We didn’t catch the ball, we didn’t hit the ball, we didn’t pitch it. But I do think that Tyler did a great job coming out. He looked really good. I didn’t see his last outing, but talking with Kyle (Snyder), it was very encouraging.”

Poche, who struggled again with his command, threw four straight balls upon relieving Glasnow — prompting a mound visit from pitching coach Kyle Snyder. But Poche walked the next batter, allowed a two-run single to Teoscar Hernandez, let a run score on a wild pitch and gave up a two-run hit by Kendrys Morales before he was finally pulled from the game.

“I don’t have a good answer other than obviously he’s not commanding the baseball, and that’s not him since we’ve got him,” Cash said of Poche. “I’m confident that he’ll get back in the groove. It’s just taking a little more time than maybe we’d all like to see. He just couldn’t correct himself. A lot of fastballs at the top of the zone. I know he’s a high strike thrower, but he’s gotta find a way to make an adjustment.”

It wasn’t any easier for Font in the next inning.

Though he did register a strikeout, Font was hit hard by Toronto, surrendering five hits over the six batters he faced as five more runs came across, and the Rays found themselves facing an 11-2 hole as “Let’s go Blue Jays” chants broke out across the stadium.

While it was a pair of unsavory outings for Poche and Font, it was a much more promising day for Glasnow, who also learned where he’ll be slotting into the starting rotation on Thursday.

“Just getting out there and getting that game-feel again today,” Glasnow said of his goal for Thursday’s performance. “Today was definitely more-so about mentality and trying to tap-in to that midseason feeling. A little better sequence for me today.

“I’m happy with my fastball today. The off-speed stuff wasn’t there, but that will come.”

Cash revealed on Thursday that Tampa Bay will begin the season with its three starters — Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Glasnow — for its season-opening homestand against the Astros before turning to back-to-back openers.

The thought process behind the scheduling is that if all goes according to plan and the starters last deep into games, then the bullpen will be more fresh for two days of consecutive openers. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Tampa Bay is scheduled to pitch two openers in its series at San Fransisco from April 5-7, meaning the Rays can use more hitters off the bench than they could with a traditional starter on the mound.

“One extra-inning game, one lopsided inning like we had today can create some shuffling that we’re gonna have to be aware of,” Cash said of managing the pitching staff’s workload.

“We kinda picked it apart with staggering it. But for the sake of the starters and giving Charlie and Glasnow the extra day in that first month, when it’s important, it made the most sense to keep them back-to-back. I’m not saying that’s how we’ll keep it for the rest of the season.”

Prospect Watch

Tampa Bay started three prospects — Brandon Lowe, Nick Solak and Andrew Velazquez — in the starting lineup, not including outfielder Austin Meadows, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

Lowe, who started at first, struck out in both of his at-bats before being replaced in favor of fellow prospect Nate Lowe. The other Lowe finished 0-for-2 with a strikeout and made an error when he couldn’t corral a bouncing ground ball in the seventh.

Solak, who started in left field, walked once and scored while striking out in his second at-bat. In the field, he lost a ball in the sun that dropped for a double in the fourth inning.

Velazquez, who got the nod at shortstop, went 0-for-2 in his at-bats with one strikeout. However, he played a clean game in the field.

The Lowe trifecta was completed in the ninth inning as Josh Lowe led off the inning after entering the game as a defensive replacement in centerfield.

The 21-year-old prospect grounded out in his only at-bat.

4-Man Outfield Shift

Tampa Bay employed one of the more unusual shifts in baseball in the second inning as Glasnow faced off against Justin Smoak.

Sending second baseman Joey Wendle to right field, Meadows to right-center, Velazquez in short right field and third baseman Yandy Diaz near second base.

Though the point was made moot when Glasnow got Smoak to strike out, it was nevertheless an interesting strategy by the Rays.

“It’s something we’ll do,” Cash said of the shift. “We’re working through it now. There’s probably gonna be, I don’t know, 15-20 guys we’re considering using it against. But Smoak, he’s such a dangerous hitter. He hits the ball in the air a lot, so it just gives us some more coverage.”

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